Nutrition Tips for Young Athletes
Nutrition and Performance
It is important that young athletes eat well-balanced meals and remain hydrated in order to achieve optimal health and performance. Bodies need to be fueled by eating proper types of foods, such as 3-5 cups of fruits and veggies a day. Doing so will ensure that young athletes play at their best. The following sites contain nutritional guidelines and food suggestions to help improve your health.
A Few Resources
MyPyramid, Steps to a Healthier You
The MyPyramind plan can help you choose the foods and amounts that are right for you. My Pyramid Tracker provides an assessment of your food intake and physical activity level.
BAM! Body and Mind
The BAM! web site answers your questions on health issues and recommends ways to make your bodies and minds healthier, stronger, and safer.
Parents Magazine has an excellent article, Healthy Snacks From A to Z, which provides you with some healthy snack suggestions.
Heath and Nutrition for Kids
The students of Green Mountain Central Schools in Vermont suggested the Health and Nutrition for Kids page from CulinarySchools.org, which has some great information about eating right and being healthy.
Fueling the Young Athlete
Nutrition plays a key role in athletic performance. Failure to provide the calories and carbohydrates that young athletes need to fuel their bodies, the fluid to maintain hydration, and the vitamins and minerals to support metabolism and tissue growth and repair will result in poor performance and an increased risk for injury and/or illness. The following nutritional guidelines will ensure that every young athlete is fueled and hydrated for optimal health and performance.
Physically active children and adolescents have calorie requirements that are 12-15 percent greater than those of their sedentary peers. The precise calorie and carbohydrate requirements will vary depending on the type, intensity, frequency and duration of exercise in which they engage.
Carbohydrates provide the primary fuel for exercising muscles. It is essential that young athletes consume lots of complex carbohydrates (i.e., whole grains, fruits and vegetables) on a daily basis. In addition, it is important to ensure that young athletes get the proper amount of carbohydrates before, during and after exercise to support optimal health and performance.
How Much to Eat and When
Make sure your young athletes arrive to practice well-fed. They should eat a well-balanced meal that contains 75-200 grams of carbohydrates, 2-4 hours before the practice session or competition. A snack 30 minutes prior to exercise may also be beneficial, particularly if an athlete was unable to consume an appropriate meal 2-4 hours prior. The snack should contain approximately 20-50 grams of easily digested carbohydrates.
Consuming carbohydrates during exercise may be beneficial if:
- The exercise session is more than one hour.
- The exercise session is very intense.
- The athlete did not eat anything before exercise.
Replacing carbohydrates that were used during exercise within 2 hours of completing the exercise session is essential for speeding recovery and preparing for the next athletic training period. The post-exercise meal should contain approximately 150 -200 grams of carbohydrates.
Keeping Kids Hydrated
A number of factors place young athletes at an increased risk for dehydration and various heat illnesses. First, the higher energy expenditure of young athletes means that they produce more metabolic heat. In addition, young athletes don't sweat as efficiently as older athletes and thus cannot cool their bodies as effectively. Finally, young athletes are not as diligent about drinking fluids and their body core temperature during dehydration tends to increase faster. For these reasons it is essential that young athletes be encouraged to drink frequently even when they are not thirsty.
Research studies have shown that providing a cooled and flavored beverage produces greater fluid consumption among children and helps prevent dehydration. Parents should make sure that athletes arrive at practice sessions, games or competitions fully hydrated. Coaches should enforce drink “pauses” every 15-20 minutes even when athletes do not feel thirsty. Parents, coaches and the athletes themselves should watch for the “warning signs of dehydration:”
Warning Signs of Dehydration
- Decreased performance
Guidelines for Optimal Hydration
The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) provides the following guidelines for the maintenance of optimal hydration:
Before Exercise: 16 - 20 full ounces within the 2 hour period prior to exercise
During Exercise: 4 - 6 full ounces
Post Exercise: replace 24 full ounces for every one pound of body weight lost during exercise.
NOTE: Your child has lots of beverage choices, but the best source of hydration is still good old fashioned water. The problem is getting your child to drink that much. If you can couple your hydration and nutrition efforts, eating snacks like bagels, trail mix, dried fruit, or pretzels will stimulate the athletes' thirst and encourage them to drink more. Alternatively, sports drinks like Gatorade are designed to stimulate thirst, so the athlete drinks more.